Where are you, God?

It’s enough to drive a man crazy; it’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder if he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the heaven’s only answer is the silence of God.
— The Silence of God, Andrew Peterson

I've been playing this song over and over.  I think I like it for many reasons. The melody is simple and beautiful.  Andrew's voice is soft and soothing. (If you haven't heard of him before you should really check him out at https://www.andrew-peterson.com) But it always comes back to the lyric for me. His words describe an experience that I have had, and that I see happening in people's lives almost every day. There are moments when all is right in our world. But there are also moments when we feel as if no matter what we do or say that God is completely unresponsive. Times that...

shake a man’s timbers when he loses his heart, when he has to remember what broke him apart.

And no matter how hard we pray, no matter how many Bible verses we read, no matter how many sermons we listen to, God says nothing.

There is good news. You are not alone in this. Christ followers have for centuries spoken of this a part of the spiritual journey. So if nothing else, take comfort in the fact that we are not alone in this experience. There are voices from throughout history that help us to trust while we are in the darkness and silence. St. John of the Cross is one who has written about this in his Dark Night of the Soul (Gerald May has an excellent book about this as well - The Dark Night of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth) and I have found great wisdom in a little book by Barbara Brown Taylor appropriately named When God is Silent.

We all have these moments when we feel as if our prayers bounce back at us from the underside of heaven. In fact, the older I get the more I think that this "silence" is the one trait everyone's faith has in common. There is so much of our life of faith that is different from others. Some have great miracles and visions, others do not. Some see God most clearly in nature, others in books, still others in active service of some sort. Some pray loud and long, while some sit silently. Everyone has a different experience in the way they relate to God, but we all have times when God seems silent.

When this happens the "pastor" in me wants to rush in and explain why God is doing this. There are a million possible reasons, but I am slowly learning that filling people's heads with my words when they are longing for God to speak is not helpful. In fact, most of the time it's more about my ego and having an answer for them than it is about helping them listen to the silent God. Sometimes the silence is the one thing we need, even though we don't want it. There is consolation in the fact that even Jesus wrestled with these feelings, and Peterson gets there in his song. But the underlying truth is that we were made for more than what this world can offer. The noise of everything around us often hides that truth. It's only in the silence that we feel the ache for that deeper truth, that relationship with God that lives beyond words and even experiences. 

I think that's why I like the song. It reminds me that when God is silent I am not alone. He has been silent with others. He has even submitted to the silence Himself.  The song doesn't answer the question of why. It sits down beside me like a good friend and reminds me that we are in this together. That the ache points me to something I need that I don't even know about...yet. That despite the feeling that this will break me, God can be trusted. In Peterson's words...

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God.
Jeff KuhnComment